Top doctors in Ontario weigh in on lack of federal guidance post-vaccination
TORONTO -- We've been hearing for months now that once vaccines begin rolling out and more people are protected against COVID-19 we can start living our lives a little bit more normally. But even though 25 per cent of Ontarians have their first shot - along with 21 per cent of Canadians - the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) isn't issuing any new post-vaccine guidance at this point.
In a statement to CTV News, PHAC says, that with the uncertainty of variants and the crushing third wave of the pandemic, even fully vaccinated people have to keep following all public health guidelines. The end date for that? Unclear. So is this the right way to be doing things - or are we playing it too safe?
It was in December that Canadians learned the first COVID-19 vaccine for our country had been approved.
As of April 16, just over a quarter of Ontarians have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. By the beginning of May, the provincial government wants to see that number spike to 40.
But with a hard-hitting third wave that's sending young people to hospital in numbers we haven't seen before, and the threat of COVID-19 variants still on the horizon, the Public Health Agency of Canada isn't ready to loosen up restrictions. In a statement to CTV News, PHAC says that until a larger number of people in our country are vaccinated, we need to keep doing what we're doing.
"...[T]here is still limited evidence on whether someone who received a COVID-19 vaccine is still able to transmit the virus. It is also unknown if or when Canada will reach community immunity,” the agency said.
“Until a larger number of people across Canada are vaccinated, public health measures remain the foundation of the pandemic response. The use of multiple personal preventive practices at once will still be needed to protect others and ourselves. This includes minimizing non-essential in-person interactions and avoiding closed spaces (with poor ventilation) and crowded places with people from outside of one's immediate household, properly wearing a well-constructed and well-fitting non-medical mask, and performing frequent hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette."
Infectious disease expert Dr. Isaac Bogoch says after 13 months of this pandemic, it could be helpful to go with a harm reduction approach compared to an abstinence approach. Like allowing people to visit a friend or loved one outside, and providing strong, transparent guidance for how to safely do that.
"For starters, I think it would be very helpful to have some more detailed guidance as to what Canadians can and can't do without the vaccine, two weeks after one dose of the vaccine, and then of course, two weeks after completing a vaccine series, it's clear that, you know, the pace of vaccination in Canada is picking up," Bogoch said.
"More and more people are partially vaccinated or fully vaccinated day after day. And I think these are very valid questions to ask, it would be helpful to have guidance, much like the CDC has in the United States as to what acceptable behaviors because quite frankly, this question is being asked with increasing frequency."
But Medical Consultant and Emergency Physician Dr. Mitch Shulman says being as safe as possible, is the right way to go at this moment.
"If you, for example, have only one dose of the vaccine, and your grandfather has only one dose of the vaccine, yes, you're probably okay. But we can't be 100 per cent Sure. So the safe thing to do is to assume you're really not protected, and maintain the social distancing of at least two meters, six feet, wash your hands, wear your mask, and as much as possible, limit the amount of time that you're in contact with people outside of your bubble."
University of Toronto professor and infectious disease specialist Dr. Anna Banerji falls somewhere in the middle. She says without guidance, people are going to start filling in the blanks themselves.
"I mean after a certain period of time, if someone's had two doses and someone else has had two doses, they're going to say 'I don't care. I don't think the risks are that high and we're going to be together because, why did I get vaccinated anyway?' And so eventually, we're going to have to have some guidelines for people because otherwise people will make their own decisions," Banerji saif.
That's something University of Toronto psychology professor Steve Joordens says is just in our nature.
"We are all emotional beings at our core. I mean, that's really what we are," Joordens said. “That is the primitive part of us that's evolved for you know, centuries and centuries and centuries. And then we have this new Sort of addition, which is the frontal lobes, and that's where we do all of our rational strategic kind of thinking, the emotional side of us will take over the rational side in a moment, if it sees a crack.”
CTV science expert Dan Riskin says when it comes to laying out guidance, and getting people to actually follow it, there's a two-pronged approach.
"I mean, one piece is what's the right call in terms of giving the fewest people COVID-19 but the second other big question is how do you maintain confidence in the system? How do you get people to keep trusting the government that keeps asking them to give things up and to take precautions and do things people have to trust the government they have to trust the health workers that are telling them what to do and you can't erode that confidence and so Canada has to be really careful not to give advice and then backtrack on it or to give too many freedoms and and backtrack or fail to give freedoms that it should have given so puts Canada really tight spot," Riskin said.
"I think a lot of people could complain that the glass is half full, and it's half empty. So you know, Canada is being really cautious and the US is saying, look, we need to have some way to open up our economy, and so they're being less cautious, and only time will tell which which strategy is better."
But there's actually some somewhat good news. Dr. Mark Berber is an assistant psychiatry professor at the University of Toronto. Despite the bumps in the road throughout our vaccine rollout, these little vials of protection really are giving us hope.
"So these are challenging times," Berber said. "I think the public has to be a little bit patient. But as I say, with the rollout of the vaccines, anxiety, depression, and stress is starting to dramatically decrease among my patients."
When we spoke with Banerji, she was completely exhausted. She and so many health-care workers are worn down, just waiting for this to be over — like all of us. But she wanted to be clear how much all of our efforts are appreciated.
"You know, we're all really, we're all really tired. I just want to say I'm so proud of my fellow Canadians, that, that the vast majority have done what they were told to do, despite all the sacrifices that people have made to their lives to their work, you know, lost income," Banerji said.
"Almost everyone has stayed at home, most people are getting vaccinated, most people are part of the solution."